Dewberry donates $1 million to engineering school


Lloyd Griffiths announced the gift March 9 at an engineering school event. (Jake McLernon)

The Dean of the Volgenau School of Engineering announced last week a $1 million gift for the university’s growing civil engineering department.

The department, which will now be named the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will be the first department at Mason named after a donor. Schools and buildings at Mason have been named after donors, but Dewberry, a former Board of Visitors rector and longtime benefactor and strategic supporter of Mason (and its engineering school), claimed the first department title.

Dewberry’s donation will help ensure the construction of an over $500,000 laboratory for the department, in addition to other department initiatives, according to Lloyd Griffiths, outgoing dean of the engineering school who announced the gift at an event Friday, March 9.

 Lloyd Griffths, Alan Merten and Sid Dewberry pose for pictures at an event Friday at the Mason Inn. (Kathryn Thompson)

“I just see it as the beginning,” said Griffiths, who has served as the engineering school’s dean since 1997. “It’s a mark of quality when this begins to happen, when people are willing to put that kind of money into your operation.”

Many engineering schools at other universities, including Virginia Tech, a university often viewed to operate a competitive undergraduate engineering program, have departments named after donors. Griffiths’ successor as dean of the Volgenau School, Kenneth S. Ball, is the current head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Tech. Ball begins his new role as Volgenau’s Dean on Aug. 10.

The laboratory which will be funded through Dewberry’s donation was a “critical need” project, according to Griffiths, because of the commonness of such facilities among other programs, and because the civil engineering department’s student population has outgrown the off-campus space it currently uses with the Department of Transportation. The new on-campus lab, which will be used in part for water resources and conservation projects and other curricula in the undergraduate program, will be housed in the Nguyen Engineering Building.

Griffiths said the gift was “critical help at a critical time” for the the department, school and university, and “the first of what we hope is many like-donations to the school.”

“We have a total of seven departments, so there are six opportunities right now [for additional named departments],” said Griffiths. “And we’ll probably expand the number of departments.”

Griffiths said the asking-price to name a department in the future will likely be higher, “at least double.”

Dewberry, who many students will recognize as the namesake of the Johnson Center’s Dewberry Hall, received the George Mason Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 1997. He was a member and rector of the BOV and additionally a member of the Board of Trustees for the George Mason University Foundation. He is also a founder and emeritus member of the Civil Engineering Institute, a nonprofit corporation established in 1989 which works with the civil engineering department and will handle the donation.

Dewberry has held many leadership positions in Virginia and the greater Washington region, as well as in higher education, many tied to urban development and civil engineering. His alma mater, George Washington University, has also recognized him with an induction into its School of Engineering and Applied Science Hall of Fame.

“Most people don’t know what a civil engineer does,” said Dewberry, who called the opportunity to donate a “privilege.” “I appreciate a civil engineer. When you drive to work, when you flush a toilet, when you get a drink a water, when you ride in a building that doesn’t fall down—all of those things are the products of civil engineers.”